My wife and I live in California, and were planning to attend a wedding in Key West. Since we had a significant (and about to expire!) RCI credit from a Mediterranean cruise where half the ports were canceled due to weather, the Panama Canal cruise was an easy choice.
Embarkation in San Diego was much easier than in our prior experiences in Europe. Having booked balcony and ocean-view rooms before, we went with the interior room this time, and actually liked it just as much or better (my wife prefers absolute darkness for sleeping).
Having cruised on the Brilliance a year earlier, the ship's layout was familiar, and we actually preferred it to the larger Navigator in terms of how easy it is to get around.
This cruise offered a nice mix of ports and sea days; we spent enough time at sea to compete in (and win!) a cumulative trivia contest. As appears generally to be the case in RCI cruises, there were plenty of activities available.
We only took two organized excursions, preferring to wander through ports (I actually spent much of my shore time at Internet cafes, since I had to do some regular work, and RCI's terribly slow and expensive Internet services were in danger of bankrupting me). The biggest disappointment was the one port in Panama, which was basically a strip mall. The Acapulco stop was disappointing, too--and annoying because of the literally dozens of "tour guides" and taxi drivers besieging us the moment we got off the ship. Cartagena was much more interesting and navigable, even though we got caught in a downpour and I wound up having to get out and push our cab.
The food on the Radiance was adequate (typical of RCI), with the exception of Portofino, which was so good (better, even in the steak dishes, than the pricier Chop) we went back twice. The dining room fare was only average, and usually most of the entrees were also available at the Windjammer buffet, where we usually ate after the first few nights.
The entertainment was the usual mixed bag, with the production events vastly better than the random singers and musicians who performed.
Over the course of the cruise, we became quite fond of the cruise director ("Dan, Dan, the Party Man") and his staff, who pulled off the required variety of cheesy special music nights and ersatz game shows with good humor. The cruise staff generally were competent and polite, with the exception of the poor guy who performed nightly in the piano bar, who did not have an ounce of charisma (a shock after the boozy fun every evening in our last cruise, on the Navigator).
But the star of the cruise was the canal itself, a true marvel. The crew (along with the Panamanian pilot's crew who navigated the ship through the locks) did an outstanding job of fully informing us of every step in the passage. It was truly a memorable day that every cruiser ought to experience.
All in all, it was a great way to get from California to Florida, and I'd do it all over again if RCI and other cruise lines would finally do something about the cost and quality of Internet services!
Skip it. Even the cliff divers were a bore.
Feels like Daytona Beach with a Spanish accent.
The city is pretty easily accessible from the ship; very pleasant strolling.
Only great if you like turtles, dolphins or jewelry. Pretty good gift shopping opportunities.